The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

My Notes on John 6:1-15

Posted by Dim Bulb on March 11, 2010

Background and Context:

The background for this reading is the Passover, which St John describes in 6:4 as being ἐγγύς (eggus), “near”.  The readings used in the synagogues at the time of Jesus would have been the following (this is not without importance):

(1). Genesis chapters 1-8.  (2). Exodus chapters 11-16.  (3). Numbers chapters 6-14.

The reader would do well to examine these passages, or, at the very least, the parts of them listed below; and in doing so note how many times the themes of eating/drinking, life and death come up and are associated with one another.  (The numbers are usually greater in the Hebrew and Greek than in our English translations).  These themes come up in the Eucharistic Discourse of John 6 which interprets the significance of the feeding of the people narrated in 6:1-15.

(1). Genesis 2-3.  Eat-21 times.  Die-5 times.  Life (live, living)-13 times.

(2). Exodus 12.  Eat-19 times.  Die (smite, strike, destroy, cut off)-6 times.  Life- 4 times.

(2a). Exodus 16.  Eat-7 times.  Die-2.  Life-0

(3).  Numbers 11.  Eat-9 times.  Die (kill, smote, consume; this last using the same word translated elsewhere as “eat”)-3 times.

In addition to the above, there are a number of other verbal and conceptual parallels between the synagogue readings and John 6, such as the recurring theme of rebellion, sometimes employing the concept of “murmuring;” the field (or garden, Gen. 2-3; Jn 6:10 usually translated as “grass”); “sitting down” (Jn 1:3, 10; Exodus 16:35 settled, dwelt, inhabited).

Notes: I’m using the Douay-Rheims Translation.

Joh 6:1  After these things Jesus went over the sea of Galilee, which is that of Tiberias.

These things may simply refer to the events narrated in chapter 5, however, scholars have long noted-and this includes a number of early Church Fathers- connections between the episode in Samaria and the events of John 6, and so it seems likely that these things refers to all the events between 4:4 and the current verse.

Joh 6:2  And a great multitude followed him, because they saw the miracles which he did on them that were diseased.
Joh 6:3  Jesus therefore went up into a mountain: and there he sat with his disciples.

The reference to a mountain and the fact that Jesus sat down recalls the episode in Samaria when He sat down by the well (4:6) in the vicinity of a mountain (4:20).  On that occasion also, and in the presence of his disciples, he saw a great multitude come towards him (4:30).  I hope to bring out the significance of this as we proceed.

Joh 6:4  Now the pasch, the festival day of the Jews, was near at hand.
Joh 6:5  When Jesus therefore had lifted up his eyes and seen that a very great multitude cometh to him, he said to Philip: Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat?

The reference to the pasch (Passover) would certainly call to the minds of the original readers of the Gospel the fact of Jesus death and resurrection.

The Greek οὖν (oun), translated above as therefore, is a conjunctive which indicates that Jesus’ question to Philip was motivated by his lifting up his eyes and seeing a great multitude coming to him.  Nothing is said about the crowd’s hunger or of Jesus compassion (compare with Mark 8:1-10).  What then is the motivation?

Again, we turn to the episode in Samaria.  The episode opened with the disciples going into the town to “buy food” while Jesus sat by the well, “tired” (literally worked or labored out).  When his disciples returned they encouraged him to “eat,” but he responded: “I have meat (food) to eat which you know not…My meat (food) is to do the will of him that sent me, that I may perfect his work” (4:31-34).  Jesus’ “food” is the salvific work the Father has given him to do.  It is against this backdrop that one must see John’s account of the feeding and the subsequent discourse.

After speaking to his disciples about the food he had to eat, he bids them to lift up their eyes and see the fields already white for the harvest (4:35).  A number of scholars understand the fields white for the harvest to be a reference to the Samaritan townspeople coming across the fields to see him (4:30).

Joh 6:6  And this he said to try him: for he himself knew what he would do.
Joh 6:7  Philip answered him: Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them that every one may take a little.

The phrase He himself knew what he would do calls to mind the statement Jesus made in Samaria that He had food which the disciples did not know of (4:32).  Inasmuch as that was later defined as doing the salvific will of His Father we are to understand that what He will do here is salvific.

Two hundred penny worth of bread is not sufficient…the monetary phrase represents about eight months of wages for the average daily laborer of the time.  The allusion to purchasing and wages (implied) calls to mind the already mentioned theme from the Samaria episode and the work of Jesus, but also points to the theme of labor/work in the Eucharistic Discourse (6:27-29).

Joh 6:8  one of his disciples–Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter–saith to him,
Joh 6:9  `There is one little lad here who hath five barley loaves, and two fishes, but these–what are they to so many?

Andrew and Philip were the two disciples who brought others to Jesus in chapter one (1:40-41, 45-46).  In chapter 12 they appear again as missionaries, approaching Jesus on behalf of some Greeks (12:20-22).  Jesus came in the flesh to do the Father’s work, the salvation of man, the fruits of this work will be applied to man via the mission of the Church, offering the Flesh and Blood of Jesus in the Sacrament.  In this way missionaries such as Andrew and Philip “enter into the work (labor) of others” (see 4:35-38).

Joh 6:10  And Jesus said, `Make the men to sit down;’ and there was much grass in the place, the men then sat down, in number, as it were, five thousand,
Joh 6:11  and Jesus took the loaves, and having given thanks he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to those reclining, in like manner, also of the little fishes as much as they wished.

In Samaria Jesus had sat down having been “worked out” by doing the salvific work of His Father.  His Disciples will in the future enter into that work by celebrating the Eucharist, the people in general merely have to sit down and enjoy the fruit of the labor.

Joh 6:12  And when they were filled, he saith to his disciples, `Gather together the broken pieces that are over, that nothing may be lost;’
Joh 6:13  they gathered together, therefore, and filled twelve hand-baskets with broken pieces, from the five barley loaves that were over to those having eaten.

The gathering up of the leftovers becomes a sign of salvation.  That nothing may be lost (perish) is a key theme in the Gospel of John (see 6:39; 17:12; 18:9).  It recalls Jesus’ openness to the Samaritans, traditional enemies of the Jewish people, who had referred to him as “Savior of the world” (4:42).

Joh 6:14  The men, then, having seen the sign that Jesus did, said–`This is truly the Prophet, who is coming to the world;’
Joh 6:15  Jesus, therefore, having known that they are about to come, and to take him by force that they may make him king, retired again to the mountain himself alone.

The crowd’s misunderstanding of the sign and the attempt to force their own will upon Jesus provides the necessity for the discourse in 6:22ff.

5 Responses to “My Notes on John 6:1-15”

  1. […] My Notes On John 6:1-15. After providing some background I try to show the connection between this event and Jesus’ meeting of the woman at the well in chapter 4. […]

  2. […] My Notes on John 6:1-15. […]

  3. […] My Notes on John 6:1-15. […]

  4. […] My Notes on John 6:1-15. […]

  5. […] My Notes on John 6:1-15. […]

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